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MIT Card Puts Student Safety at Risk

Guest Column by Kathleen Misovec

Observing the trend of several recent administrative decisions affecting life on campus, one seriously begins to wonder if MIT will still be qualified to call itself an "Institute of Technology'' in the near future. Some of these decisions cause only embarrassment and threaten only our reputation as one of the world's premier institutions for engineering design. For example, while it is laudable to have a handicapped accessible door, the door for Buildings 1 and 5 can swing open in the face of someone unfamiliar with the system in addition to being slow, inconvenient, and frequently malfunctioning.

Much more critically, the decision to adopt a poorly designed system known as the MIT Card, poses serious security threats to the physical well-being of members of the MIT community in addition to causing major inconveniences.

The first purpose of this column is to alert the community of the security risks and inconveniences of the card. The second purpose is to request that the administration consider the simple change of separating the MIT Card from its function as a key in order to reduce some of these risks and inconveniences. A separate key-sized non-identifiable magnetic strip card could be issued as a key and the MIT card could be kept as an identification and cash card. The third purpose of this letter is to request that in the future the administration consider and act on student input on important decisions which affect student lives.

The MIT Card is a picture ID with a magnetic strip similar to a bank card. The multi-purpose card functions as a key, an ID, and a cash card. The key functions allow access to the outer entrance of dorms but may soon be expanded to MIT buildings. The ID functions will be used for parking and athletics. The cash card functions currently include only meal plans, but in the future will be a general cash card as MIT moves toward becoming a "cashless campus."

The MIT Card is a threat to our physical well-being in at least three ways. First, entering a building late at night is now much more dangerous. An MIT Card proponent who came to a well-attended meeting last spring of concerned Ashdown House students, told us that the card is quicker than a key. Yet after using the card keys, students have found the practical reality is that the card can actually take longer to open a door than a metal key. This is due to the added time it takes to remove a card from a wallet and also because minor scratches and wear from only a few weeks use can increase the number of times the card must be swiped through the reader to six or seven times.

Card fragility heightens security risks significantly when the card breaks down unexpectedly late at night or takes an unreasonable number of times to swipe through the card-reader. The extra time to open the door and the presence of a wallet can attract the attention of potentially harmful people. Students are now more exposed to mugging, theft, and rape.

The second security risk is due to duality of the card as a key and as an ID. If you lose your card, the finder will know exactly who you are and can easily find out where you live and work. How many people place name and address cards on their house and car keys? It is ridiculous to imagine the thought of attaching a note to your keys, "In case found, please return to . . ." Yet this is what the MIT Card effectively does.

The third way the card increases security risks is that the cards may be able to be duplicated and additionally card readers can break or be tampered with, enabling easy entrance into dormitory buildings. Ashdown residents pointed out to MIT Card representatives that "it's a hack waiting to happen." We students are worried about the security of our persons and our dormitory belongings. With the expansion of the MIT Card, professors will have to worry more about the laboratory and computer equipment and office belongings against theft and damage.

The inconveniences associated with the MIT Card are so numerous and annoying that it is surprising that the designers of the cashless campus could overlook them. Like the name and address card, would anybody attach a 20 dollar bill to his or her key chain? While it would be nice to always have cash available, the loss of the card enables the finder to go on a small spending spree. A Lobdell Court cashier is not going to look at the ID picture carefully or ask a person using a card for a signature or a password.

Because the MIT Card does not offer the protection of a credit card or bank card, financial loss incurs until the card owner realizes the card is lost and reports it and MIT responds to disable the card.

Due to the fact that the card readers that open the doors are prohibitively expensive, another major inconvenience is that the people are forced to carry both MIT keys and card keys. At Ashdown, some doors such as outer doors use key cards while other doors such as room doors still use metal keys. This trend would probably be extended to MIT buildings for the same reasons; outer doors and large laboratories will operate on key cards, offices will operate on metal keys. We will have to carry both the key card and metal keys - a major annoyance.

Many students are also concerned about issues of privacy and protection. The potential to track people exists, though the MIT Card people assure us that they will not utilize this feature. However, because the feature is present it increases vulnerability to loss of privacy.

In conclusion, there are such major design flaws in the MIT Card system that it makes one wonder about the MIT administrators who made the decision to adopt it. Perhaps they should really sit in on an engineering design class such as 2.70.

The MIT Card is a security risk, a financial threat, a major inconvenience in many ways, and a potential invasion of privacy. Changes should be made next term. Further extensions of the MIT Card to offices and labs should not happen until these issues are addressed.

Additionally, in the future students should be consulted about major issues affecting their lives before decisions are made, and they should have strong input to these decisions. A disturbing trend is beginning to become apparent. Is the administration willing to listen to the input of the students on issues such as the MIT Card, the future of Ashdown, East Campus, and Senior House, and the potential removal of vital parking spaces accessible near the living groups of Ashdown, McCormick Hall, and Baker House?